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Nearly Half of U.S. Workers Feel They're Underpaid

By Daniel B. Kline – Updated Aug 30, 2018 at 2:19PM

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If you're one of them, step one is to do some research and figure out if you're right.

It's normal to feel like you're not getting paid what you're worth. Sometimes, hard work goes unnoticed by your bosses. In other cases, salaries are defined more by workplace policies than by individual performance.

Despite that, the percentage of American workers who are satisfied with what they are earning is actually slightly higher than those who aren't, according to a new study from global staffing firm Robert Half. Among those surveyed, 49% said they are paid fairly, compared to 46% who believe they're underpaid. The remaining 5% actually said they think they're paid too much.

Robert Half surveyed over 2,800 workers in 28 U.S. markets to develop its 2019 salary guides, which "provide starting salary ranges for more than 460 roles in the accounting and finance, technology, legal, creative, and administrative fields."

A pair of glasses sit on a pay stub.

Americans are pretty equally divided on whether they are being paid fairly. Image source: Getty Images.

They may be right

At least some of the workers who feel underpaid may be correct in that assessment, according to Robert Half Senior Executive Director Paul McDonald.

"Some firms have not kept up with shifts in market demand and continue to use old job classifications, and salary bands," he said. "If your organization has not reviewed its compensation plan within the last six months, it could be outdated."

Workers may also feel underpaid because they are being contacted by recruiters or hearing through the grapevine what colleagues are being paid. In some cases, heightened demand and a low pool of available talent are pushing salaries higher.

McDonald, though, suggests that companies need to focus on more than compensation when it comes to retaining employees. "Professionals earning a healthy salary may still feel undervalued or underappreciated for their contributions," he said. "Pay alone does not guarantee employee satisfaction or happiness. Organizations need to offer solid benefits, perks and incentives, along with a positive corporate culture, to attract and retain top performers."

What can you do?

If you feel you are not being paid fair wage for your work, you should start by finding out whether your opinion is in line with reality. Check job postings and websites like Glassdoor, where people anonymously post their salaries, and which perform frequent surveys to gauge salary ranges. You should also do an honest self-evaluation of your job performance.

Are you a hard worker? Do you regularly exceed your managers' expectations? If you don't, then you may have some work to do before going to your boss and requesting a pay bump -- though switching companies for higher pay and a clean slate may be an option. If, however, you are truly underpaid you have a few options.

The first is simply going in to talk with your boss. Bring evidence to show how salaries have climbed, and give details about why you deserve a raise. Be reasonable, and open to a series of increases over time that get you where you want to go.

If that strategy fails, or if you're open to changing jobs, you're in luck, because this is a good time to be searching for a new one. See what's out there, talk to recruiters, and decide if you're happy to leave your current employer, or willing to use an offer as leverage.

Take charge of your employment situation and take advantage of the current tight labor conditions. The environment won't stay employee-friendly forever, and you don't want to let opportunity pass you by.

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